Throwback Thursday – Tommy

In my formative years, Styx was huge. So were Aerosmith, Boston, Supertramp and all of those bands that now form the backbone of the classic rock music genre. 

I wasn’t a musical kid by any stretch, but I loved music. I did sing a couple of solos in grade 8 when I played Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer, but they had to lower the key a couple of octaves and after that, other than singing in a chorus in Bye Bye Birdie, I lost confidence in my singing ability. (With good reason, some say!) 

For my teenage self, the heart of a rock song was the singer and the drummer. I noticed and could imitate guitar solos but they didn’t really interest me. I loved lyrics. And when I noticed the sound of the lead singer in Styx changed from song to song, I decided to investigate. Ah-ha! Dennis DeYoung sang on some of the tunes while Tommy Shaw sang on others. I had no idea that these two musical forces would eventually pull the band in different directions; Dennis wanting to pursue Mr. Roboto-type prog rock and Tommy wanting to stay straight-ahead in the rock and roll lane. 

But before all of that, Tommy put out a solo album titled Girls With Guns that I rushed out and purchased and played until I knew every song by heart. I still do.

Tommy Shaw and me, among trailers backstage at Rock the Park

Flash-forward to 2013. When my then-employer, Free 981, announced that Styx would be playing Rock the Park that summer, I had one goal: shake the hand of Tommy Shaw. Even after the band’s management told us there would be no meet-and-greet or interview opportunities, I didn’t give up hope. And it happened organically. We were backstage waiting to meet Toto when Tommy and Gowan strolled past us. Our promo assistant Jess, knowing of my quest, trotted over to Tommy and asked him for a moment. He smiled and came over and I had several uninterruped minutes of his time. He held my hands in his and really listened. I told him how important he was to my youth and how much I loved Girls With Guns.

“Girls With Guns. Wow. You must have been a little kid then.” Thank you, sunscreen. He was truly taken aback by the mention of a 1984 album that only made it to #50 on the Hot 100 albums chart, even though the title track was a top 10 single. 

He really listened to me as I tried hard not to babble. I thanked him for the music. He thanked me for being a fan. They went on to have an amazing show that night and that little dream coming true was even better than I imagined. 

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